Why Diverse Games: “Ask Why”

Today I’m interviewing another awesome gamer who responded to my call for interviewees. She would prefer to remain anonymous to protect her privacy.

K: What do you think makes you a ‘gamer’?

E: For me, a gamer is someone who is passionate about video games. For me it also means I spend an ungodly amount of time gaming; whether that can be considered a pro or con depends who you ask.

K: What attracts you to videogames over other forms of entertainment?

E: Books, movies, plays, and art – all of these are mediums for telling stories and creating incredible worlds, but video games allow you to be an active participant. You aren’t just watching a story unfold, you’re immersed in it. In many cases, you also have a direct impact on your environment. That’s not something you can find anywhere else, and that’s what makes games such an exciting and invaluable medium.

K: What effect do you think inclusive representation has on storytelling in games?

E: I struggled answering these questions, not because they’re difficult, but because (as someone who happens to be straight, white etc.) I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer them.

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The archetype of the straight, white, male gamer is an archaic one.

What I’ve realized, like you, is that representation in media for people who are marginalized by society can prove very meaningful. For instance, I have a brother who happens to be transgender and characters like Krem and Dorian in Dragon Age: Inquisition really resonate with him (Krem on the basis of also being trans, and Dorian for his personal quest). Yet, there aren’t a lot of trans characters out there – despite the fact a lot of trans people play video games.

Video games have so much potential as a medium for storytelling, and they bring people together and can have such a positive impact on our lives – if increasing diversity can help them do that, it’s absolutely something that should be encouraged, not stifled. The archetype of the straight, white, male gamer is an archaic one. People of all backgrounds are gaming nowadays and games themselves should reflect that.

K: How does inclusivity in games affect you as an individual?

E: I’ve always had pretty moderate views regarding representation in the gaming industry. That is, I like when I’m able to play as a woman and I love seeing well-written female characters, but it’s not a requirement for me. I think, overall, the gaming industry has come a long way from the days when the only women in games were damsels in distress or lone icons such as Samus or Laura Croft.

As a woman, being able to play as my preferred gender – particularly in RPG’s, where player choice and customization are so vital – has a notable impact on my experience. Not being able to play as a woman won’t ruin the game for me (some of my favourite games have male protagonists), but it’s nice when it’s an option.

Editors note: This is a good point E. It’s absolutely true that not all games need to have diverse casts. Sometimes, video games are still about someone else’s experience, even if we’re participating in it. Firewatch for example, is Henry’s story. When you’re playing an RPG however, it’s your story! That’s why I think RPG’s are leading the charge on inclusivity.

K: Have you ever refused, or would you consider refusing to play a game based on a problematic portrayal?

E: One of the reasons I’ve never expressed interest in the Grant Theft Auto series is due to criticisms I’ve heard about sexism within the games. Whether or not that’s true, I haven’t ascertained firsthand, but I have been dissuaded from playing them.

K: What might next steps be for the game industry in regards to increasing representation?

E: The real struggle now is diversifying games in other ways (outside of women in games). You don’t have to look too hard to find a number of well written straight, white female characters. They’re still not as prevalent as their male counterparts of course, but progress is progress. It’s another story when you’re looking for women of colour, or LGBT+ women.

I also think it’s important for developers to listen to their audience. If a significant portion of that audience reports feeling alienated, the developers should ask themselves why. Why are they feeling this way? What can developers do differently in the future? How can they make their games appealing to a wider variety of people? If they care about their games, they will also care about who’s playing them.

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If they (developers) care about their games they (should) also care about who’s playing them.

Editors note: I definitely agree that as audiences educate themselves, they’ll hopefully become more vocal and developers will listen. A great example of this came from Blizzards Overwatch game and the controversy over the ‘butt pose’ for Tracer.

K: What games are you playing now or looking forward to the most?

E: Right now, I’m most looking forward to The Legend of Zelda: Wii U, Pokemon Sun & Moon, and Dragon Age 4!

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I want to say a special thank you to E for answering these questions. They’re not particularly easy, and I also feel like I’m under-qualified to speak about representation.

Although E regards her views as moderate, many individuals simply haven’t formed opinions at all. They might play hundreds of games and never think about what they’re consuming and how it affects them on a deeper level, or how that media affects others.

I’ve heard from a lot of straight, white male gamers (including my husband), about how this is a subject they’ve never put much thought into. The purpose of this series is not to shame any individual or group, but to provide different experiences and views to help us all think more critically about the media we consume.

Every voice matters, we’re all learning and we’re doing it together.

If you’re interested in sharing your views through an interview or other contribution, send me a message via my contact form or tweet me @kjewellwrites.

You can always join the conversation using #whydiversegames.

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